The exceptional emergence of the 2012 men’s volleyball season isn’t anything new, but the experienced youth is a surprise.
After starting the year 0-3, the Pride have overcome the drought with an 8-1 record in the past nine games. Throughout the course of the eight victories, Springfield defeated teams like No. 14 Emmanuel College, No. 5 MIT and No. 3 UC Santa Cruz in impressive fashion. This past weekend, the No. 2 nationally -ranked Pride won their first Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic title in school history. The Pride came away empty-handed in the first 23 years of the event.
These young and talented players are coming together like pieces to a puzzle. coach Charlie Sullivan, who has led his teams to six Division III national championships, has put his team in perfect position in the past; and this year is no exception.
“I think our practices are always very competitive with everyone trying and pushing each other,” senior outside hitter Jeff Gutmann said. “We always support each other. It is competitive in the gym, we push each other, and it shows out there on the court. We are a cohesive team, as coach would say.”
First-year players like outside hitter Angel Perez and setter Keaton Pieper have contributed their volleyball skills and assets essentially within the scheme of Sullivan. After his dominant performance in the Morgan Classic, Perez earned the MVP of the tournament and the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III National Player of the Week.
“It is really a great situation for me, but MVP it is not what I want. I want a national championship. I am more proud that we made history; we are the first [SC] team to ever win the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic,” said the first-year outside hitter.
The Puerto Rico native has a team-high of 88 kills to go along with a .297 hitting percentage, 43 digs, and four serving aces in 12 games. His teammate Pieper has been productive handling the setting duties with 192 assists, 34 digs and five aces.
In addition to Perez and Pieper, the team is well stocked with veteran experience. Juniors like outside hitter Mike Pelletier, middle blocker Greg Falcone, opposite hitter John Coen, sophomores Jim O’Leary (middle blocker) and Nick Ferry (libero) have been a big part of the Pride’s success this season.
Falcone, a 6-foot-8-inch middle blocker, has dominated the net, tallying 45 total blocks and 60 kills.
“Overall, I think it is our communication as a team at the net,” Falcone said of his team’s success. “We know what we are doing going into the game, we know how we want to approach each attacker, and before each play we are constantly in each other’s ear telling each other where to be, what shot we need to take and how we are going to approach each swing.”
Pelletier has 76 kills, nine serving aces and 51 digs.
There are a large amount of key games left on their schedule, including No. 14 Emmanuel, No. 12 Baruch, No. 10 Vassar, No. 7 Nazareth, No. 6 NYU, No. 5 MIT and No. 4 Juniata. If the Pride can earn some hard-fought victories, they could head into the playoffs as a top seed.
“We got to keep our hardworking mentality up,” Falcone said. “This is the most hardworking team I have ever been a part of. We are really determined to achieve our goals this year and get better with every rally in every practice and every game.”
Springfield has used their home games to their advantage this season. The Pride are 7-0 at home and will defend their streak against Mt. St. Vincent (3-5) on Friday at 7 p.m.
Mark Loiselle may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org